P&G 'buzz marketing' unit hit with complaint
By Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY
Is Procter & Gamble — the world's biggest packaged
goods marketer — breaking the law by enlisting
teens to coax friends to try teen-tailored
One consumer advocacy group thinks it is.
Commercial Alert on Tuesday filed a complaint with
the Federal Trade Commission that says P&G's
word-of-mouth marketing unit, Tremor, targets
teens with deceptive advertising.
If successful, the complaint would have broad
impact on the ad business. So-called buzz
marketing is the industry's hottest trend. More
than 85% of the nation's top 1,000 marketers now
use some form, estimates Marian Salzman,
trend-spotter at JWT Worldwide.
Advertising Age estimates buzz marketing to be a
$100 million to $150 million industry. Though
still relatively small in dollar volume, the
provocative practice ranks among marketing's
highest growth areas — and is causing genuine
angst within the industry.
"This is a practice that may be illegal," says
Jonah Bloom, executive editor of Advertising Age.
"It's probably only a matter of time before
someone jumps on it" to stop it, he says.
Which is what Commercial Alert is trying to do.
P&G, and several smaller buzz marketing
specialists named in its complaint, "are
perpetuating large-scale deception upon consumers"
when people they recruit to promote products by
word of mouth don't disclose that fact, says Gary
Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert.
FTC officials declined to comment.
P&G's 4-year-old Tremor division has a panel of
250,000 teens ages 13 to 19 who are asked to talk
with friends about new products or concepts P&G
sends them. About 75% of members are female.
Steve Knox, CEO of Tremor, which works for outside
clients as well as parent P&G, had no comment on
the complaint. But, he says, "We're an incredibly
ethical company." Panelists are not paid cash, he
says, but get product samples or other materials.
"To be a member is empowering for a teen," says
Knox. "You have a voice that will be heard, and
you get cool information before your friends
Knox won't name any of Tremor's outside clients,
citing client confidentiality.
Tremor recently did a campaign for P&G's Clairol
Herbal Essences. The purpose was to help teens
feel more comfortable about coloring hair. It sent
some members cardboard booklets that let them push
locks of their own hair through a hole and compare
it with what the hair would look like in a new
"If we've done our work correctly, they talk to
their friends about it," says Knox. Tremor doesn't
tell members to say they are part of Tremor, he
says, "because you never tell a (panelist) what to
Ruskin says that's bogus. At a minimum, his
complaint says, the FTC should "issue subpoenas"
to P&G executives at Tremor — and other buzz
marketers — to determine whether their endorsers
are disclosing that they are paid marketers.
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